TLCAD At Ease Service Dog recipient Retired Major NC USAF Linda Stanley has turned her experience with PTSD into her mission to help her fellow service members. Linda served over 20 years in the military – – six years in the Army and 14 years in the Air Force as a nurse. Linda deployed in 2006 with 32nd Medical Group to Balad, Iraq, where she was a trauma nurse and provided medical care to many severely injured service members. Linda explains that the medical part of her deployment was the highlight of her career. It was the human side of war, the pain, the grief, and the loss she saw in the faces of troops that bothered her most. Her symptoms of PTSD started with trouble sleeping and nightmares, and escalated to anxiety and hypervigilance that affected all aspects of her life. She felt alone and disconnected from the world.
It took time but Linda eventually sought help. After several tries to find the right therapist, Linda found someone who had also been deployed and that she could relate to, as she had also “been there”. Even after going through intense therapy, Linda still did not feel at ease in public.
“I felt alone, sad, and often felt unsafe.” states Linda, “I was at a combat women’s retreat and saw a fellow veteran with a dog. That dog made me feel good and I wondered if a service dog could help me.”
Linda pursued TLCAD’s At Ease Service Dog Program, and received her Service Dog, Willow, in 2011. Willow was custom-trained and placed with Linda to perform specific behaviors that help to mitigate her symptoms of PTSD.
“Willow helps me with my sleep by being right by me. She helps with my hypervigilance, my jumpiness. She often alerts me to other people before I know it. She smells when people are coming to my house. She comes close when I am triggered. She helped me get out and socialize. People often approach and ask about her.”
Since 2011, Willow has been by Linda’s side, accompanying her to school as she completed her Master’s Degree in Nursing as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.
Linda now works with veterans as a psychiatric mental health nurse and is an active member of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). She and Willow have attended IAVA’s Storm the Hill campaign in Washington D.C. in an effort to increase legislation to support veterans and address the epidemic of veterans committing suicide. As a champion for veterans with PTSD, Linda notes that challenges facing our veterans include finding a job, getting into the appropriate type of therapy, and support from friends and family.
“The re-integration time is especially difficult. Many are young and find it challenging to fit in again in society after they have seen so much in combat.”
She stresses that access to trauma informed trained staff and normalizing many of the symptoms of PTSD to help decrease the stigma are key to improving the treatment of our veterans. By sharing her own story and journey with PTSD, she educates military nurses, residents, doctors, generals and members of Congress about the invisible wounds of war, providing them with information that helps to create more understanding, empathy and better treatment for veterans.
“I need people who are taking care of veterans with this condition to understand and have empathy for what’s going on in their heads. If they understand it better, they’ll take better care of them.”